Chekov drama confronts wasted lives

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The depressing atmosphere of a home where time is passing people by is immediately apparent with the set of “Uncle Vanya,” now at Goodman Theatre.

David-Darlow-Kristen-Bush-Tim-Hopper-Marilyn-Dodds-Frank-Larry-Neumann-Jr.-Caroline-Neff-and-Mary-Ann-Thebus-in-Goodman-Theatres-UNCLE-VANYA-adaptedby-Annie-Baker. Photo by Liz Lauren
David Darlow, Kristen Bush, Tim Hopper, Marilyn Dodds Frank, Larry Neumann Jr., Caroline Neff and Mary Ann Thebus in Goodman Theatre’s “Uncle Vanya”  adapted by Annie Baker. Photo by Liz Lauren

Designed by Todd Rosenthal, a once elegant country estate confronts audiences with ravished walls, a light bulb that hangs from a chandelier and decrepit furniture.

Written by Anton Chekhov and first seen in Moscow in an 1899 production directed by Konstantin Stanislavsik of the “system” and method acting fame, the Goodman production  possibly started with a high degree of role analysis.

However, the Goodman version feels as if director Robert Falls allowed his talented cast a great deal of freedom of interpretation and interaction. That looseness makes what can be a very predictable show for people who know the play, more interesting.

In “Uncle Vanya” pretty much everyone is unhappy. They think that by middle age, they are too old to accomplish anything or they are bored or they are in love with someone who cannot return that affection.

These universal themes, wrapped around existential questions, are examined by Chekov in a rural Russia with no “way out” signs except another bottle of vodka.

Caroline Neff (Sonya) and Tim Hopper (Vanya). Photo by Liz Lauren
Caroline Neff (Sonya) and Tim Hopper (Vanya).
Photo by Liz Lauren

Even with the intelligent insights of Vanya, expertly portrayed by Tim Hopper, the characters’ whining and attitudes of hopelessness get old so that it is easy to agree with their friend Astrov (Marton Csokas), a local doctor’s assessment when he declares, “I’m bored.”

But wait, as TV ads say. The second half becomes livelier when Serebryakove (David Darlow), an ill, retired university professor who supposedly owns the estate, declares he will sell it even though Vanya, the brother of Serebryakove’s late wife, and Sonya (Caroline Neff) his daughter, have slaved on the estate to supplement the professor’s income.

Serebryakove wants the sale so he and his new, young, beautiful wife, Yelena, (Kristen Bush) ), can lead a sophisticated, urban life.

So what should Vanya do? “Uncle Vanya”would be a good starting point to discuss middle age expectations.

Details: ‘Uncle Vanya’, by Anton Chekhov and adapted by Annie Baker, is at Goodman Theatre now through an extended date of March 19, 2017. Goodman is 170 North Dearborn St. Chicago. For tickets and other information call (312) 443-3800 and visit Goodman Theatre.

 

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